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Shots fired in spat with protesters

Title: Shots fired in spat with protesters
Date: Tuesday, 28 July 1998
Publisher: Union Leader (New Hampshire)
Author: Hope Ullman
Main source: Caution: Editorial elements introduced in this transcription

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SANDOWN — A longtime opponent of the Church of Scientology allegedly fired two shots into the air Saturday after telling Church of Scientology members — who had been picketing outside his summer home on Fremont Road — to leave his property.

Robert Minton, a longtime church opponent and defender of those he believes have been victimized by the church, fired a 12-gauge shotgun into the air after asking four pickets and a private detective hired by the church to leave, Police Chief Scott Currier said.

Although Minton has apparently seen his share of Scientologists picketing outside his Boston home, this was the first such incident in Sandown, Currier said. Officer Ben Pinault responded to the scene after hearing the shots.

“He had seen picketers out there earlier in the day, and we are somewhat aware of the conflict between Mr. Minton and the Church of Scientology,” Currier said.

The protesters were gone when police from Sandown, Chester, Fremont and Danville and two state troopers arrived. Asked why so many law-enforcement officers responded, Currier said, “We know they’ve had an ongoing feud between them. We didn’t know what we were dealing with, so we prepared for the worst. … We spoke to Mr. Minton and took custody of the firearm for the night just for everyone’s safety.” The incident remains under investigation. Currier said neither side had filed a complaint yesterday, and no charges were expected. However, a man who identified himself as Gerard Renna, one of the Scientologists who protested, said he plans to file a formal complaint against Minton today.

“We did a peaceful demonstration. He shot the gun,” said Renna, who phoned a reporter yesterday. Renna said he’s tired of Minton “going on ‘Dateline’ and spreading lies about the church. I’m just a little fed up. He’s been a little un-American.”

Attempts to contact Minton yesterday were not successful.

Minton has organized demonstrations against the church before, Renna said, so Scientologists should be allowed to do the same.

“A Scientologist is just one who tries to better his conditions in life” through the teachings of the church’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, Renna said. “I don’t understand why someone would want to attack a fast-growing religion.” According to Kevin Hall, human-rights officer for the Church of Scientology in Boston, the church is “a religious philosophy that deals with improving life and helps individuals develop themselves mentally and spiritually and use their full potential by increasing the ability to communicate, study better and realize the potential (they) have.”

Hall said he does not understand the basis of Minton’s protests against the church.

As for Saturday’s protest, “There were some people very upset about what he’s been pushing in the media,” Hall said. “He’s basically been funding a group of people to attack us through the media and courts….” Hall alleged that after the protesters knocked on Minton’s door to tell him they were protesting, Minton told them to leave; they did, and he then allegedly fired the shots into the air.

According to a July 9 report in the Boston Globe, Minton has endured numerous protests outside his Boston home by Scientologists who have reportedly written and distributed fliers containing attacks against him, in addition to hiring private detectives to investigate his past. Minton reportedly questioned whether Scientologists were responsible in the past for many odd incidents, such as a dead cat he once found on his Sandown doorstep. Church officials denied any involvement in that incident.

Minton, a multimillionaire, has devoted much of his post-retirement life and funds to helping those he alleges were victimized by the church. Asked why, Minton told the Globe he believes in the First Amendment; he has the money to fight the church and its alleged harassment of former members; and he can’t forget being locked up in a mental institution for several days at age 16 against his will.

According to the Globe story, that experience led to his interest in the case of Lisa McPherson, who, Minton and other Scientology detractors allege, died after being locked up for 17 days in a Scientology-owned hotel in Clearwater, Fla. Minton reportedly paid for an attorney for the family of McPherson in a wrongful death suit against the Scientologists. Church officials denied responsibility for her death.

“I was never a member of the group, but I’m involved because I believe everyone has the right to believe what they want,” Minton told the Globe.

“People don’t have the right to have their minds controlled and manipulated in the way the Scientologists manipulate people. I’m so incredibly shocked at the pain the Scientologists can cause people. It’s so obvious that Scientology, like other groups and cults, causes a lot of devastation,” he said.

Police Chief Currier said his main concern is for the safety of all residents.

“We don’t know what to expect,” Currier said. “There’s a lot of rumors and innuendoes … so we don’t really know how far this is going to go.” Hall said the church is a peaceful organization.

“As far as I’m concerned, if the Church of Scientology and Mr. Minton have problems, they should keep it between the two of them and take it to a courtroom, and they shouldn’t be playing high school games and getting the rest of the community involved,” Currier said.

“I would say that both sides are pushing their luck, and are pretty close to crossing the line in terms of breaking the law. The Church of Scientology had no business being on his property, and Mr. Minton had no business discharging a firearm into the air.”